Locals shine on Division-I rosters
Last updated 12/10/2020 at 9:26pm
With the high school sports seasons still suspended in Illinois and the poor play from the Bulls and Bears and abbreviated college football seasons, there has not been much for local fans to cheer about.
Welcome college basketball.
Locally, Joliet Jr. College, the University of St. Francis and Lewis University all have area athletes on the men's and women's basketball rosters.
There are also a plethora of local talents playing across the nation at the Division-I level.
Patrolling the sidelines at the University of Illinois-Chicago is former Joliet West head coach Luke Yaklich.
In just seven seasons since he left the Tigers bench, Yaklich spent four years as an assistant at his alma mater Illinois State University, a pair of seasons at the University of Michigan under John Beilein, where he helped the Wolverines to a pair of 30-win seasons, two Sweet 16 appearances and the 2018 National Championship Game.
Last season, Yaklich coached under Shaka Smart at the University of Texas where the Longhorns finished third in the Big XII finish and an appearance in the NCAA tournament, prior to its cancellation due to COVID-19.
"Those seven years have gone by fast and the high school experiences at Joliet, LaSalle-Peru and Sterling really helped me adjust and be comfortable on the sideline with who I am as a coach," Yaklich said. "Then the seven years I had to learn from three great coaches was very rewarding."
Yaklich led the Flames to a pair of wins over Mid American Conference teams to open the season, defeating Northern Illinois University 65-61 after trailing by as many as 22 points in the second half for Yaklich's first collegiate win. The Flames then defeated Central Michigan 74-72.
"We have a lot of moving parts that are trying to fit well together and a coach that is trying to make it all fit," Yaklich said. "This is an unprecedented time and these kids are in an unprecedented situation and we are together for the first time. So the more we have situations in close games that we can learn from, it will pay dividends down the road."
While there are several new players to the UIC team along with a new head coach, not all of the faces are new to Yaklich.
The most familiar face is his son, Griffin, who Joliet West fans may remember in the layup line or handing out water at time outs.
Griffin is now a 6-foot, 5-inch freshman guard for the Flames after choosing to play for his dad among other D-I and D-II offers.
At Saline High School in Michigan, he averaged 15 points, nine rebounds and led the Ann Arbor area with seven assists per game to help Saline finish the season at 13-9.
"To walk through the doors and see your son is a blessing. I never take that for granted. We had to spend his senior year away from each other because I was at Texas, he was in Michigan and there are days that I get emotional walking through the door and seeing him because that doesn't happen all the time and I am thankful for this opportunity," Luke Yaklich said.
Griffin is not the only player on the Flames to call Joliet home.
Teyvion Kirk transferred to UIC from Colorado State University, where he actually never played a game.
Kirk spent his first two college seasons at Ohio University before sitting out a year in the transfer portal.
In his two seasons at Ohio, Kirk started in all 62 games for the Bobcats, averaging 14.7 points, 5.8 rebounds and 2.8 assists per game.
The 6-4 point guard scored in double figures in 27-of-31 games as a sophomore, including three games of 20 or more points.
As a freshman, Kirk was named to the All-MAC Freshman Team after leading the team and ranking 12th in the conference in scoring at 15.3 points per contest.
"I looked at my options and it was honestly perfect timing, almost destiny, when I was in the process, I saw Coach Yak got the job and we knew each other previously and I knew how great of a coach and person he was and it was an off I just couldn't pass up," Kirk said.
While he never played for Yaklich at Joliet West, he was familiar with him from his days in Joliet.
"My seventh and eighth grade year I went to Dirksen Jr. High and we had a big tournament at Joliet West and I had some older guys that mentored me growing that went to West, so I would go watch them play, so I had a relationship with coach Yak in junior high," Kirk said. "College basketball can be a tricky game and there can be a lot of politics and business and coming into a situation and knowing him personally and being comfortable with him made me comfortable and I knew I could trust coach."
It is not only Yaklich that is helping Kirk grow his game as a top tier point guard as Yaklich retained former University of Illinois star and ex-NBA player Dee Brown from the previous regime.
"Coach Dee Brown is a Hall of Famer but he never acts like it," Kirk said. "He is one of the most humble guys that I have ever met that played in the NBA. He has such a great legacy. Having someone that has been where you want to go and someone with the knowledge is amazing. He is hard on me and he is brutally honest with me. He is not going to tell me what I want to hear but what OI need to hear and that goes a long way with me."
In the win over NIU in his first game with the Flames, Kirk faced off against a pair of former high school foes in Huskie guards Tyler Cochran and Kaleb Thornton - both from Bolingbrook.
Cochran is a sophomore for NIU and last season as a freshman, he appeared in all 31 games, making one start. He averaged 5.5 points and 4.2 rebounds per game, while recording 21 steals, 20 assists and eight blocks.
"My role this year will be whatever coach wants of me," Cochran said. "Coming off the bench, starting, playing defense or scoring - everybody feeds off each other."
Thornton also comes to NIU as a sophomore, playing last season Iowa Western Community College in Council Bluffs, Iowa where he averaged 10.8 points, 3.4 assists, 3.2 rebounds and 1.5 steals per game.
Thornton said despite the outcome, he was happy to have his first D-I game under his belt.
"It was a great experience. It is something that as a kid playing basketball and someone who work as hard as I do, you dream of doing. It was a dream come true despite not having the outcome I was looking for. All I want to do is help this team win, coming off the bench or not playing and bringing energy," Thornton said. "Tyler has made the transition easier. Having someone I played with for two years in high school, a great person, great teammate and someone I consider a brother made the transition easier and helped in my decision to come here."
Yaklich, Kirk, Cochran and Thornton are only a few of the many local players on Division-I rosters this season.
Kendall Holmes is a 5-11 guard for DePaul University.
Ashley Konkle is a sophomore at Western Michigan University.
Last season, she played in 13 games for a total of 110 minutes. She averaged 3 points and 2.4 rebounds per game.
Jason Malonga is a senior on the DePaul University roster. The Bolingbrook native joined the program as a non-scholarship player in September 2017.
He is a three-time member of the BIG EAST All-Academic Team and two-time NABC Honors Court honoree.
Last season he played in five games and scored two points with two rebounds against Chicago.
Tsimba Malonga is starting her junior season at the University of Denver. As a sophomore, she appeared in 28 games and averaged 2.8 points, 1.5 rebounds and 1.0 assists per game.
She scored a season-high 10 points against North Dakota State.
Lindsey Rogers is a 6-0 freshman guard on the UIC women's team.
Brooke Schramek is a 6-0 freshman guard at the University of Wisconsin.
Lauren Stack is a sophomore at American University. Last season she played in 26 and averaged 1.7 points and 1.3 rebounds per game. She tallied a season-high 10 points against Loyola Maryland.
Nana Akenten is a redshirt junior at Southeast Missouri.
Akenten redshirted last season after sitting out the season due to NCAA Division I transfer regulations.
As a sophomore, he played in 28 games for Nebraska, averaging 4.3 points and 2.5 rebounds per game while being one of the Huskers' first subs off the bench. He ranked sixth on the team with 24 three-pointers and shot 30 percent from long range.
Darius Burford is a freshman guard at Elon.
Jayden Marable is a 5-6 freshman guard at Northern Illinois University.
Danyel Middleton is a 5-10 freshman at Marquette.
Jahari Smith is a junior at Central Michigan University. Last season she started all 30 games for the Chippewas averaging 4.6 points and 4.8 rebounds per game to go along with a team-best 54.1 field goal percentage.
Smith was second on the team with 22 blocks. As a freshman, she also started all 33 games for CMU.
Treasure Thompson is a freshman forward at Louisiana State University.
Joseph Yesufu is entering his second season at Drake University.
As a freshman, he missed the first nine games of league play with a knee injury, then re-injured the knee and missed every game after Feb. 1.
In the 13 games he played, he averaged 3.8 points, 1.2 rebounds and 0.8 assists. He set career-highs 16 points, 6 rebounds, 3 assists and 4 steals against Simpson.
DOWNERS GROVE NORTH
Semaj Henderson is a freshman at Jacksonville State University.
The 6-2 guard signed with the Gamecocks after prepping at Washington Academy in Greenville, N.C. following his high school career.
DOWNERS GROVE SOUTH
Holly Lueken is a 6-1 sophomore forward at Colgate University.
As a freshman, she saw action in 23 games and averaged 1.7 points and 2.0 rebounds per game helping the Raiders finish 19-11 for second-most wins in program history - just second winning season in program annals covering 33 seasons of Division I play.
Lueken was awarded the Colgate Team Most Coachable Award and was named to the Colgate Raider Academic Honor Roll and Patriot League Academic Honor Roll.
Woodridge native P.J. Pipes is a senior at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay.
As a junior last season, he appeared in 31 games, starting in 11. He ranked fourth on the team in scoring with 288 points - a 9.3 points per game average.
He was second on the team in 3-pointers made with 55, shooting 44.7 percent from deep and hit three or more 3s in 10 games - including career-high 6 makes against IUPUI.
Jenna Cotter is a freshman at Indiana University Purdue University-Indianapolis.
Tommy Gardiner is a 6-7 junior on the Marquette roster. He was awarded a prior to the start of last season, where he appeared in five games and scored first-career basket against Central Arkansas Dec. 28.
Plainfield native Kaylee Bambule is a redshirt junior at Ohio University.
Last season she appeared in 11 games for the Bobcats, averaging .05 points per game.
Downers Grove Native Sam Mitchell is a 5-6 sophomore guard at the University of Alabama-Birmingham. As a freshman, she played in all 31 games, the only nonstarter to appear in every game. She scored a career high 14 points against McNeese State Nov. 24 where she went 5-for-5 from the field, 1-for-1 from three and 3-for-3 from the free throw line while dishing out three assists.
Sam Galanopoulos is a 5-8 sophomore guard at Loyola Chicago.
The former Voyager Media Player of the Year and Prep Shootout MVP, she was named to the Missouri Valley Conference All-Freshman Team last season.
She came off the bench to appear in all 29 games her freshman year, averaging 4.8 points, 2.4 rebounds and 2.0 assists per game. Her 57 assists on the year ranked third on the Loyola roster.
Anthony D'Avanzo is a graduate student at Southern Illinois University–Carbondale.
He played three seasons as an undergrad at Lewis University where he tallied 927 points. He averaged 15.8 points and 8.4 rebounds as a senior, shooting 49 percent from the field and 40 percent from the 3-point line.
Dusan Mahorcic is a sophomore at Illinois State University.
He played last season at Lewis University where he saw action in 18 games with one start. He averaged 4.2 points and 2.7 rebounds to go with eight blocked shots and eight assists for the Flyers.
Jeameril Wilson is a 6-7 junior guard at Lehigh University.
The winningest player in Notre Dame history (101 wins), Wilson posted a breakout sophomore season a year ago, averaging 10.6 points and 5.3 rebounds per contest – good for third and second on the Mountain Hawks, respectively. Those numbers were good for 24th and 10th in the Patriot League. He played in all 32 games, starting 29 and reached double-figure points on 21 occasions.
Elyjah Goss is a senior at Indiana University Purdue University-Indianapolis.
The 6-7 Bolingbrook native is a team captain this season.
A year ago he was chosen to the Horizon League's five-man All-Defensive Team. He played all 32 games, making 29 starts and averaged 9.1 points and 11.5 rebounds per game while shooting 48.7 percent from the floor and leading the team with 33 blocked shots. Goss grabbed a school record 369 rebounds for the year, including 22 games with 10 boards or more and tied the IUPUI Division I record with 12 double-doubles, including one where he set the school record for 21 rebounds in a game to go along with 17 points in a win over IU South Bend on Dec. 10.
Eddie Creal is a junior at St. Bonaventure.
Last season at Moberly Community College in Moberly, Missouri where he averaged 15.1 points, six rebounds and two assists per game while shooting better than 58 percent from the floor.
Deandre Heckard is a junior at Stephen F. Austin. He played the last two seasons at Tyler Junior College in Tyler, Tx.
Robert Johnson is a junior at Grambling State University. The 6-5 forward played at Kishwaukee College where he averaged 14.4 points for the Kougars.
Lisle native Antwainette Walker is a 5-11 redshirt-sophomore at Marquette.
Walker missed last season due to NCAA transfer rules as she played her freshman season at Arkansas-Little Rock where she averaged 2.2 points and 1.4 rebounds per game.